Build Support Internally, Trust Externally with Gay Market

In the mid-1990s American Airlines advised employees to remove pillows and blankets from flights headed toward the gay rights march on Washington to avoid possible HIV contamination. Gay and lesbian organizations and media nationwide slammed the airline for its ignorant, stereotypical message. It looked as though the company had suffered irreparable reputation damage with these key travelers. Instead, Tim Doke, the airline's VP of communications, took a proactive approach that has made American's reputation tops among gay travelers and has propelled the airline to a position as the official carrier for almost every national gay and lesbian organization. The process was a long-term effort to communicate with the gay and lesbian community and re-earn their trust, and to educate American Airlines employees and build gay pride within the organization itself.

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